The champion from Livigno celebrates ten years of his most beautiful success: “The public is walking away of our sport, 3Tre being a fantastic exception.”
Monday December 12th 2005: the 3Tre night slalom takes place in Madonna di Campiglio. A name stands above everybody else’s in the pre-race conversation: Giorgio Rocca. The Italian won the first seasonal slalom in Beaver Creek, only eight days earlier, showing impressive confidence. Campiglio has been waiting ten years for an Italian success, since the last win by Alberto Tomba.
In Madonna di Campiglio’s snowfall, the slalomist from Livigno does not disappoint. Third after the first run, Rocca unleashes an impressive performance in the second descent to eventually see off Kalle Palander and his long-time rival Benni Raich, third and second respectively on the final podium. Ten years later, Giorgio Rocca remembers that day, and gives his take on alpine ski, and what has changed in the White Circus over these ten years.
Giorgio, you always say: I have had plenty of success in my career, but winning the 3Tre stands above the rest. Italian pride, or something more?
I must say both. Canalone Miramonti gives an indescribable boost to an Italian athlete. You can feel the public so close – materially close, too – compact, shaking in trepidation. That public wants you to win for them, for all of them. To make it scream of joy like that night, on December 12th, is something I will never forget. This 3Tre feeling is something you can’t find in any other race, any other Nation.
Ten years have passed. What has changed in alpine ski over this time?
Technically speaking, maybe not that much. Unfortunately, you see people and TV walking away from our top-level sport. In Italy we have a big number of leisure skiers, but they have actually very little feeling for the competitve side of the sport: nowadays, only those who are really passionate in alpine skiing disciplines know the top skiers of the Italian team. You need something more than a little social networking here and there to actually reach the people.
If he were ten years younger, would Giorgio Rocca be able to win over today’s champions?
With the physical and training condition of ten years ago, and with the desire I still have to ski and win, I think I would be in contention. Technically speaking, I would certainly have had to endure some adjustments: guys like Hirscher and Ligety changed the approach to the technical disciplines over the last few years. All in all, though, it’s still about touching the limit, possibly surpassing, but keeping in control: it is not enough to be the fastest in the first ten gates if you go out on the eleventh. Being a champion is an all-different story.
What does it take to win the 3Tre?
You need to make a masterpiece over the two runs. The slope is steep, demanding, and pretty short: you don’t have the chance to recover from a mistake or a slow start.
The slalom specialists will arrive in Campiglio with just one race in the legs, tomorrow’s in Val d’Isere. How important is the French race?
It will be a key test for everyone. Until the first run, no one actually knows where they are in this discipline. And it will be an interesting test in the view of 3Tre too: the Face de Bellevarde is steep and technical like the Canalone Miramonti, while being a little longer.
Speaking of the Italian team, and looking at the age of its components, there seems to be a problem in terms of generational exchange…
And it’s hard to understand why. We have a strong base, but it seems like these guys constantly miss that little bit to reach the top. Competition is very strong, of course, and there are athletes coming out of Countries where top-level ski did not practically exist until a few years ago. I think the mental approach might be the real issue: if you want to win, you must believe and be confident in your chances to reach that goal.
The experience of a winning athlete might have great value, in these terms. Have you ever thought about becoming a team coach?
Personally speaking, I would be eager to. But I am not sure how I would fare in that role: I know how much I demanded from myself. I might end up believing in my athletes more than they would, and that could eventually create aversion and mistrust. A coach with a successful past career might be more respected at first, but on the other hand, someone might feel your experience is too different from theirs.
And would that be true?
Honestly, I was not phenomenally gifted. I worked really hard, waking up every day for years with only one thing in mind, believing and investing in myself. I think several athletes, including some in the Italian team, are really close to take the decisive step: but if they do not believe that in first place…
Today, you are dedicating yourself to the Giorgio Rocca Ski Academy. What’s the main lesson from 15 World Cup years you are teaching to your pupils?
I try my best to transfer to them the passion for ski, in every little detail, to make them understand how lucky they are to live something like that. I encourage them to improve their technique, of course, but in first place, I want them to enjoy everything about it: skiing is dancing, is music, is something you have to relish. You have to get off your skis and think: “I learnt something today, I had some really good fun.”
Why should a fan come to see the 3Tre on the Canalone Miramonti?
Because those who watched it only on TV have no idea of what it really is. Only on the slopeside you taste that passion, the skis scratching on the snow, the sound of the rapid gates hitting the ground, the unreal feeling of thousands of people holding their breath. Only sports can give you all of that: an emotion everyone – either fans or not – should try.
Finally, who will win on December 22nd?
The athlete who will make the least mistakes, and will manage to ski close to the limit – or even beyond – through both runs.
We want a name
I give you three. Marcel Hirscher, Felix Neureuther, and also Giuliano Razzoli: I saw him training, looks like he is finally back to what he was. And I am very happy for him.